“A great leader has more in common with an artist than an economist. Economists drill deep in narrow fields, but the artist’s view is more expansive; he’s [/she’s] more able to grasp the big picture, and see how it is changing.”
The quote is from a recent column by Peggy Noonan who writes weekly for the WSJ. In her piece she takes the new administration to task for, among other things, overplaying an image of darkness and resentment rather than appealing to Americans’ optimistic “can-do spirit.”
Without delving into the politics, what struck me about her piece was the idea that great leadership is more than just having command of the facts – good or bad. Knowing the facts is important but without a sense of the big picture, one’s conclusion may be off the mark, or worse, ill-founded. What’s more, by simply changing the vantage point, the same set of facts may lead to an entirely different view altogether.
Quite often, the lens in use at that moment and the context that surrounds it, colors what we see. It should come as no surprise then that like-minded professionals often arrive at the same conclusion for a given set of facts while the out-of-the-box thinker, who sees the data from a different perspective, arrives at an entirely different solution.
Thinking outside the box has long been the purview of industries where creativity and innovation are critical, e.g., advertising, marketing, design and technology. The “creative types,” or those endowed at birth with their artistic skills, naturally gravitate towards positions where safe spaces allow their creativity to flourish.
But the importance of creativity is much broader than previously thought. Years ago, the Yale School of Medicine introduced an art appreciation class as a requirement for all first-year med students. The rationale was based on research suggesting it was possible to enhance students’ observational skills and reduce misdiagnoses by studying paintings. It seems that simply knowing a patient’s vital signs without some broader context, did not always result in the best outcome.
Only recently have educators concluded that creativity and artistry can be taught regardless of one’s natural ability. Left-brain people tend to find comfort with structure, rows and columns, and logic. But according to Amy Whitiker professor and author of the Art of Thinking, what they learn from art “is how to be productively disoriented – to get lost in the weeds of creativity.” The link between creativity and innovation is not lost on MBA programs, where workshops on creative thinking are on the rise.
No matter where your career takes you, executive recruiters increasingly view creativity on par with one’s mastery of traditional business skills like communications, marketing, finance or economics. Their logic is that sometimes it’s better to be lost in the weeds of creativity than shoehorning old ideas into today’s increasingly complex challenges.
It’s an annual event that encourages museums and art gallery visitors from around the world to stop galloping around venues with the intention of seeing as much art as possible. Organizers say there is something transformative about slowing down and letting the art reveal its secrets. “When people look slowly at a piece of art they make discoveries….it unlocks passion and creativity.”
The next time you’re given a difficult assignment at work, don’t be so quick to come up with an answer. Explore it from different angles for somewhere in the depths of its complexity lies an idea that you may have never thought of before.